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COA: Insurance policy covers deputy killed while directing traffic

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The Monroe County Sheriff’s deputy that was killed while directing traffic was using her car at the time of the accident and was entitled to coverage under the county’s policy under the uninsured/underinsured motorist endorsement, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed.

In Argonaut Ins. Co. v. Christopher Jones, individually and as personal representative of the estate of Sarah Jones, deceased, No. 53A01-1012-PL-669, Christopher Jones sought to recover up to the $1 million policy limit from Argonaut Insurance Co. following the death of Monroe County Sheriff’s Deputy Sarah Jones. The Monroe County Board of Commissioners purchased the policy from Argonaut, which covered Jones’ vehicle.

Jones was directing traffic just outside of Bloomington while a tow truck worked to remove a car that had slid off the road. Her car was parked at an angle in the road and her emergency lights were activated. Bree Myers’ car hit and killed Jones.

The trial court granted summary judgment and later declaratory judgment in favor of Christopher Jones.

Argonaut argued that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on the question of whether Jones was entitled to coverage under its policy’s UIM endorsement. It had claimed she wasn’t using her car within the terms of the liability policy. Citing, inter alia, Lumbermens Mut. Ins. Co. v. Statesman Ins. Co., 260 Ind. 32, 291 N.E.2d 987 (1973), the judges found there to be an “active” relationship between Jones and the car, and that the car was in use under the terms of the policy. She had deployed her police vehicle to assist her in directing traffic and securing the scene of the truck slide off, wrote Judge L. Mark Bailey. This distance of Jones to the car does not matter as Argonaut had argued because Jones was in some active relationship to it at the time of the collision.

The judges had to determine what the words “resulting from” used in Argonaut’s policy meant, and no Indiana court has considered that phrase. The policy requires that an insured’s injuries be “caused by an ‘accident’ and resulting from … use of a covered ‘auto.’” The judges decided Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co. v. McMichael, 906 P.2d 92, 104 (Col. 1995), was particularly illustrative, and found just as in that case, there can be no question here that the reasonable expectations of the Board of Commissioners and Argonaut would necessarily include the use of specialized and specially equipped patrol cars for traffic control and accident site safety, wrote Judge Bailey.

“Where such vehicles are then put to that use, where the individual is using the vehicle with consent of the owner for those specialized purposes and has an active relationship to the vehicle as deployed and the individual is injured in a manner that may reasonably arise from traffic control and accident site safety activities, we hold that that such an injury results from the use and is thus covered under the UIM and liability policy language presented to us today,” he wrote.

The judges rejected Argonaut’s argument that its decision affirming the lower court would cause the insurer to become an insurer for every sort of accident or injury incurred by an officer who is injured while on duty. In the instant case, Jones was actively using her vehicle to control traffic, and the car was integral to securing the scene. This is different from a case in which a police officer leaves his car for an extended period of time to perform activities in which the car isn’t essential.

The case also presented another issue of first impression regarding Argonaut’s claim that the employment exclusion precludes Jones from coverage under the liability portion of the policy and therefore would preclude her coverage under the UIM provisions. The judges found in this case, the employment exclusion provision doesn’t apply based on the reasonable expectations of the insured.

“The use of vehicles — patrol cars, motorcycles, and transport vans, among others — is integral to the work performed by police officers, as it was to Deputy Jones’s work. It is hard to see how any use of a police vehicle — indeed, any municipally-owned vehicle under the policy — could be covered under the liability policy and UIM endorsement if Deputy Jones’s use of her vehicle is not covered,” wrote the judge.

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